Agenda item

Gressenhall Farm & Workhouse Report

To receive a report from Andrew Smith, Operations Manager – West.


The Operations Manager for East and West, Andrew Smith presented the report that covered the period from September 2022 to January 2023.


The Gressenhall events programme ran four operational models which were reviewed at the end of each calendar year to assess visitor attendance and feedback. These models were: Special Event Days, Holiday Activities, Ticketed Events and Norfolk School Holiday Activities.


The Heritage Open day, as part of the Special Event Days, had been particularly popular with over two thousand attendees. The National Heritage Open Day theme in 2022 had been Innovation and at Gressenhall they had been joined by partners from the Norwich and Dereham Club of Metal Detectorists in the marquee showcasing finds and demonstrating their tools. The site also welcomed two additional working pairs of Suffolk Punch horses for the day, including a foal, for ploughing, cart work and display.


Apple Day in October had been immensely popular again and very busy with  entertainment including a band and Morris dancers. There had also been prize giving on the best apple costumes and a comfy zone had been provided in the Chapel with a range of books loaned from the Norfolk Library Service. The farm had hosted oat harvest steam threshing, face painting and a special recipe station. The Environment Hub had been highlighted by stalls on the farm, with visitors challenged to consider what farms of the future might look like by constructing their own farm from recyclable materials which had proved extremely popular with 130 future farms made. It had been featured by BBC Look East and on BBC Radio Norfolk which had been an extra level of advertising for Gressenhall and over £150 had been raised for the Mid Norfolk Foodbank.


October half term saw an average of over 180 visitors per day, peaking at 290 visitors mid-week. Events had included tractor trail rides and lantern making craft activity in the Chapel.


Ticketed events, which were pre-booked and pre-paid events held outside of standard opening hours or out of the main season had included a Murder Mystery, Willow Christmas Decorations, apple pruning and a Victorian Family Christmas where Father Christmas had arrived in the Panhard Car. Visitors attending the event on 19 December would also have seen Radio Norfolk’s Kayleigh Poacher and team who had broadcast their entire show live from the Museum that day.


Gressenhall had organised several leisure learning short courses throughout the year in 2022 and were hoping to expand the short courses in 2023.


SENsational Families/Nansa hosted a focus group of families at Gressenhall in October in partnership with EMBL’s European Bioinformatics Institute; they were looking at developing a treasure hunt activity  with input and expertise from the families they work with. The proposal, including external funding was for an additional sensory activity to be made available alongside the stamper trail activity at Gressenhall, to build on the site’s existing engagement and support for visitors with SEND. This would be trialled over the Easter school holidays.


The 2023 Gressenhall events programme was now in place and continued to be communicated via social media, Arts Council Tickets and the Gressenhall website, with lots of activities planned for 2023 with particular key dates Apple Day on 15October 2023 and the Victorian Family Christmas on 17 December 2023. The costs of delivering and marketing the Gressenhall events programme continued to be subsidised with funding from Arts Council England (ACE).


Gressenhall had continued to focus on digital delivery as an alternative means of engaging with both new and existing audiences with a first webinar in June 2022 entitled ‘An Artists Introduction; Georgie Meadows’ which had focused on her current exhibition Georgie Meadows: Stitched Drawings. Feedback had been very positive, including a call for more Gressenhall webinars.


The Georgie Meadows: Stitched Drawings exhibition had closed at the end of October 2022. The exhibition had encouraged interactions from visitors, and it had included approximately 1,300 drawings left by visitors and twelve stitched responses had been sent in by the community to form a community blanket which had also been displayed at the Ancient House Museum.


A new in-house curated exhibition, opening on 13 March 2023 called ‘From Axes to Acorns: Woodlands and how we’ve shaped them’, partially inspired by Gressenhall’s role as an environment hub and the tree nursery now on site and would also link into NCC’s project to Plant a Million Trees. This exhibition would explore how trees and woodland were more important than ever and would include objects from Gressenhall and wider NMS collections.


In January 2023, woodworm had been detected in the Victorian School Room display and Cherry Tree Cottage display and had been treated by freezing collections in vulnerable spaces. With the help of volunteers, around 50 pieces of furniture had been wrapped, transported and frozen. In February 2023 a deep conservation-clean of collections on open display in the workhouse and rural life gallery had commenced.


The Farmers Foundry Steam Engine project, which had been funded by ACE had completed in September 2022. Volunteer projects had also included a Clever Clogs Museum trail created by craft volunteers, and interpretation banners looking at the environment and social impact of steam created by young people. These elements won a £300 grant in the Volunteer Showcase at the SHARE Museums East Conference.


Improvements had been made to the onsite orchard which had been tidied up, new fencing had been installed and new trees to replace those which had died of disease would be planted in the 2023 season.


The Suffolk Punch horses were doing well with the two younger horses, Jack and King now being introduced to the harness and four new Red Poll cattle were also doing very well with in-calf heifers due to calve in March.


As part of a wider scheme to refurbish the farm site, farm tasks had been undertaken over the winter period with work on hedges and maintenance on fences with a new Kabota tractor supporting the heavy work.


The community tree nursery continued to flourish and was now well established. Seeds collected last year were growing well in the raised beds. The long-term aim of the nursery was to supply young trees to be planted at various sites around the county and linked well in to the NCC ambition to Plant a Million Trees for Norfolk as well as the DEFRE Trees Outside Woodland scheme.


Maintaining and growing a strong social media presence remained a key priority for Gressenhall Farm and Workhouse, and commercial activities were needed to generate income, bat walks and the hiring of spaces for weddings contributed to that income, with a wedding booked for 8 July 2023. Councillor Clark said that the Gressenhall Facebook page was particularly good which was important and very encouraging. Mr Smith said that the team had worked very hard to provide relevant content.


The Friends of Gressenhall and volunteers remained very supportive. Helen Bainbridge, the Chair of the Friends of Gressenhall informed members that the second-hand book shop had gone through a recent facelift and, although small it had been made more accessible with extra bookshelves around the outside. There had been a recent request for more children’s’ books and this had proved extremely fruitful with a host of children’s books now ready for sale at the start of the season. The Friends had been extremely supportive and had supported and attended most events over the last year and they continued to raise funds where possible to support the Museum. Volunteering was now fully operational after Covid-19 lockdowns. The volunteers continued to support all aspects of work at Gressenhall including work on collections, documentation, steam engineering, landscape conservation, farming, research and maintenance of the Panhard car.


Gressenhall had welcomed over 4,000 school children on educational visits between September and December 2022 with total visits since last April now at 8,480 and with current bookings for February and March 2023 it should be close to 10,000 visits for the first time since Covid-19, although it was thought that the teacher strikes may have some impact on these visits.


Early November saw Gressenhall pilot a KS2 environmental-focused schools’ programme which included a week of pilot events, offering free entry and a transport subsidy to schools. Feedback had been very positive, with the effective combination of history and science particularly praised. There would be two more pilot days in February and if successful the event would become a part of the standard schools offer.


Councillor Duigan suggested that it might be worth the research team investigating the work of William Hyde Wollaston, an English chemist and natural philosopher who was widely considered as one of the leading scientists of his time and was born in Dereham. He felt that this may link in well with the science work with the schools.


Dr Hanley updated Members on the Kick the Dust: Norfolk project, funded through the National Lottery Heritage Fund (NLHF) delivered in partnership with a range of organisations including YMCA Norfolk, continued to engage with young people aged 11-25. It had been due to come to an end at the end of March 2023 however, three years of additional funding had been secured along with funding from NCC. It was also hoped to secure further funding in the future. Statistics and data along with other information provided had demonstrated that the project had proved to have a positive impact on young people and staff engaging in activity which had been delivered through a blended offer of face-to-face activity and online engagement.


Kick the Dust was set up as a three-stage journey, with young people developing transferable work-related skills, and gaining experiences that they would struggle to find elsewhere, to support them in securing employment. Kick the Dust had supported seven young people on its bursary traineeship programme, the last cohort finishing in May 2022, all of whom had secured permanent employment within the heritage sector. One Kick the Dust participant had progressed onto the NMS Teaching Museum traineeship programme.


All data taken from the project was compared with the Renaisi findings which used data from October 2020 to September 2021 across all 12 National Kick the Dust projects which showed that the Norfolk Kick the Dust project was in line with other Kick the Dust projects scoring higher in 9 out of the 13 areas.


The aim moving forward was to support more working age young people to progress into employment, training or further learning and gain confidence to take on long-term volunteering roles within NMS.


Visitor figures for both museums from April 2022 to January 2023 saw Ancient House admissions at 7,216 visitors and Gressenhall Farm and Workhouse at 44,472 visitors which had been a good increase on previous years and confirmed that levels were increasing and starting to get back to pre-covid visitor levels.


Members of the Committee noted the report.

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